WASHINGTON — Ilya Samsonov rebounded after allowing an early goal, and the Washington Capitals bounced back on Saturday to show they can very much hang with the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Florida Panthers.
Samsonov made 29 saves, Alex Ovechkin scored a power-play goal and assisted on another and the Capitals blew out the Panthers 6-1 in Game 3 to take a 2-1 lead in the first-round series. Chants of “Sammy! Sammy!” gave way to “Ovi! Ovi! in the third period of the convincing victory.
Game 4 is Monday in Washington.
T.J. Oshie deflected Ovechkin’s shot for one power-play goal, and Marcus Johansson, Trevor van Riemsdyk and Garnet Hathaway also scored for the Capitals, who shook off a 5-1 loss in Game 2 and an early deficit in Game 3 behind the play of their new starting goaltender and a stingy effort that stymied the NHL’s best regular-season offense.
Samsonov got the nod to replace Vitek Vanecek in net after stopping all 17 shots in relief Thursday. He got off to a rough start, giving up a goal to league MVP candidate Jonathan Huberdeau less than three minutes in – then stopped every shot he saw the rest of the way.
With Samsonov the backbone at even strength and short-handed, Washington’s penalty kill improved to 9 of 9 against Florida, which ranked fifth on the power play this season at just under 25%. The Panthers also led the league in scoring at more than four goals a game.
But this series against an opponent with more experience in postseason hockey – seven players remain from Washington’s 2018 Stanley Cup championship – has been another rough lesson for the Panthers about how to win the playoffs. Ill-advised penalties by top-pairing defenseman Mackenzie Weegar and Huberdeau paved the way for the power-play goals, a missed defensive assignment opened the door for Johansson’s and a turnover in the corner led to van Riemsdyk’s.
The Eastern Conference eighth-seeded Capitals improved to 4 of 12 on the power play in the series. Their victory guaranteed at least two more home playoff games this spring.
AVALANCHE 7, PREDATORS 3: Gabriel Landeskog scored twice in the second period, and top-seeded Colorado beat host Nashville for a commanding 3-0 lead in their first-round Western Conference series.
Landeskog also had two assists. Nazem Kadri and Devon Toews each added a goal and an assist, and Artturi Lehkonen and Nathan MacKinnon scored a power-play goal apiece as Colorado went 4 for 5 on the man advantage to push Nashville to the brink of elimination. Cale Makar had three assists.
PENGUINS 7, RANGERS 4: Danton Heinen’s first playoff goal in three years just past the midway point of the third period broke a tie to lift Pittsburgh to a victory at home to take a 2-1 lead in their first-round Eastern Conference series.
Pittsburgh blew a three-goal first-period lead but recovered behind the play of third-string goaltender Louis Domingue and Heinen, who jumped on a loose puck near the New York goal line and flicked a shot by Alexandar Georgiev 11:02 into the third to put the Penguins in front to stay.
Game 4 is Monday night in Pittsburgh.
Evan Rodrigues had two goals and assisted on another for the Penguins, who won despite any member of the top line of Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust not recording a point until Guentzel’s empty-netter with 2:14 to play sealed it. Jeff Carter also scored twice for the Penguins while Brock McGinn started the scoring on a wild night with his first goal of the playoffs.
Domingue made 32 saves and even recorded an assist in his second playoff start. The 30-year-old journeyman put together a flurry of stops early in the third period with the Penguins on the penalty kill to set the stage for Heinen’s heroics.